Citrus harvesting, yields and prices

Harvesting

Fruit has to reach a specified maturity standard before it can be harvested. This is determined by taking a sample of your fruit and doing a brix/acid test, which measures the sugar and acid content of the fruit. Growers often use testing services provided by their local citrus cooperative or pack house. Maturity cannot be determined by looking at the fruit.

Yields

Yields need to be considered in conjunction with tree density. In an orchard of normal density, tree spacing would be 7.3 m between rows and 3.5 m to 5 m between trees. In this orchard, average yields would range from about 9 kg (half a citrus carton) per tree in the third year to about 150 kg to 180 kg (8 to 10 citrus cartons) for a mature tree in the tenth year. Using these figures, a mature orchard should be expected to produce 2500 to 3000 citrus cartons per hectare per year.

Higher, early yields per hectare can be obtained with high density planting. This is now a well established practice and is recommended for new plantings. High density orchards are normally based on the same 7.3 m row spacing (sometimes less for some mandarins), but use double the density of trees within the rows. This effectively doubles the early yields per tree up to about the sixth year and makes much better use of available land. However, close planting requires a higher level of management with more regular pruning and possible tree removal. Mature orchards yield about 2500 to 3000 citrus cartons per hectare per year, the same as normal density tree spacing.

Prices

Mandarins are marketed in two pack types. Early season varieties such as Imperial are almost all marketed in half citrus cartons (9 kg) while mid and late season varieties such as Murcott are almost all marketed in standard citrus cartons (18 kg). Imperial mandarins generally range in price from about $15 to $20 per half carton, but good quality fruit at the start of the season may fetch double this. Murcott prices typically range in price between $20 and $40 per carton.

Prices for limes are very variable within a range of $5 to $10 per 9 litre carton containing 5 kg fruit for the main part of the season, but may reach $30 to $40 when there are limited supplies of fruit in spring and early summer. Detailed current and historical capital city central market prices and throughput volumes for all types of citrus are available from Ausmarket Consultants.

Prices for export fruit are generally higher than prices for domestic fruit, but the extent depends on variety, quality, market destination and competition from other citrus exporting countries.